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McCain Challenges Obama, GOP To 'Change'

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McCain Challenges Obama, GOP To 'Change'

McCain Challenges Obama, GOP To 'Change'

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

John McCain says he's the one who can change Washington. The Republican nominee took the stage last night in St. Paul, Minnesota. He followed two nights of fiercely partisan rhetoric at his convention, and then McCain took a quieter approach. He challenged Democrat Barack Obama and he also challenged his own party.

Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: The man who's often been the biggest thorn in the side of the Republican Party became its standard bearer last night. During the primaries, John McCain made peace with a lot of Republican orthodoxy but now he's made a U-turn, back to his roots as a Republican reformer. And his pick of Sarah Palin helped him cement that new strategy. As McCain said last night, I found just the right partner to help me shake up Washington.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Nominee): She knows where she comes from and she knows who she works for. She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: It's not often that a vice presidential candidate gets mentioned so much in a presidential candidate's acceptance speech. But the Palin pick helped energize the Republican base and seems to have provided a new focus for McCain himself. He told the delegates that he can't wait to introduce her to Washington.

Sen. MCCAIN: Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first - country second, crowd: change is coming.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: After several days of speakers delivering slashing partisan attacks on Barack Obama, McCain presented himself in the non-partisan role he's most comfortable with.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: You well know I've been called a maverick, someone who...

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: ...someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party, I don't work for a special interest, I don't work for myself - I work for you.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Even though the Republican base is now unified and enthusiastic about this ticket, a partisan appeal wouldn't be enough for McCain this year. Party ID has shifted to the Democrats. There are now fewer voters who identify themselves as Republicans. So, McCain needs to win independents.

Last night he appealed to a broader audience beyond the hall of Republican faithful, citing his record as someone who could end the partisan rancor in Washington.

Sen. MCCAIN: Again and again I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. My friends...

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: ...I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: When it came to policy, the contrasts were more traditional. Just as Obama had delivered a conventional Democratic policy agenda in Denver, last night, McCain's prescriptions were familiar Republican ones. He made no mention of the issues where he and his party had clashed - immigration, campaign finance reform or global warming.

Sen. MCCAIN: I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can; my opponent will raise them. I will open...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. MCCAIN: ...I will open new markets to our goods and services; my opponent will close them.

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. MCCAIN: I will cut government spending; he will increase it.

(Soundbite of booing)

LIASSON: Even as McCain shifts his focus to battle with Obama over who is best able to shake up the status quo, he's not giving up the experience argument all together. He said he had the background to keep America safe.

Sen. MCCAIN: I hate war. It's terrible, beyond imagination. I'm running for president to keep the country I love safe and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideals - to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Speaker after speaker at this convention recounted the story of McCain's heroism as a POW in Vietnam, and last night McCain himself told it again, explaining how the experience taught him the most valuable lesson of his life.

Sen. MCCAIN: I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it, not just for the many comforts of life here; I loved it for its decency, for its faith and the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: The crowd waved blue and white placards that read Country First, the theme of this convention.

Sen. MCCAIN: I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: My country saved me; my country saved me, and I cannot forget it, and I will fight for her as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

(Soundbite of song)

LIASSON: The bags of balloons let loose right on cue and all the family members of the Republican ticket gathered onstage.

(Soundbite of song)

LIASSON: Now both parties have their nominees. The Democratic and Republican bases are energized and united. Polls show the race is very close. McCain and Obama have 60 days left to break the tie.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, St. Paul.

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